The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program continues to suffer from technical issues and cost overruns, but that hasn’t stopped the Pentagon from awarding Lockheed Martin a $1.4 billion sustainment contract for the fifth-generation aircraft this week.
The company has also opened a brand new facility in Florida to produce parts for the F-35, evidencing how Lockheed can accrue vast legislative support for the F-35 via informal quid pro quo agreements to put facilities in different lawmakers' states, ultimately leading to higher employment.
"I couldn't be more proud, it's going to create close to 100 new jobs," Charlie Crist (D-FL) said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new Florida plant on Monday.
US President Donald Trump took aim at the most expensive weapons program in US history. "The F-35 program and cost is out of control. Billions of dollars can and will be saved on military (and other) purchases after January 20th," Trump tweeted in December 2016.
This may have been before Trump learned that the F-35 enterprise is responsible for more than 146,000 jobs in the US across 45 states, the Chicago Tribune reported in December 2016, citing company officials. Texas, Georgia, Florida, Arizona and California play major roles in testing the plane and manufacturing its many components.
While the government and the contractor are notorious for floating the promise of lower costs in the future, "Trump is unlikely to squeeze more blood out of this rock," analyst Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies told the Chicago Tribune at the time.
In a news release this week, Lockheed Vice President for F-35 Global Sustainment Bridget Lauderdale said, "we are taking aggressive actions to improve the F-35 aircraft availability and reduce sustainment costs. As the sustainment system matures and the size of the operational fleet grows, we are confident we will deliver more capability at less cost than legacy aircraft."
Lockheed Martin and the government have disputed everything from the plane's cost per unit to fixing an issue on its production lines.
"We could seal this deal faster. We could. They chose not to, and that's a negotiating tactic," Vice Admiral Mat Winter said in March, adding, "we don't know to the level of granularity that I want to know — what it actually costs to produce this aircraft."